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Witcher 2 torrents could net you a fine

"There's a chance you'll get a letter" - dev.

Gamers who download upcoming PC exclusive The Witcher 2 illegally could receive a letter demanding they pay a fine or face legal action.

If gamers refuse to pay the fine, which will be more than the cost of the game, they could end up in court, developer CD Projekt told Eurogamer.

"Of course we're not happy when people are pirating our games, so we are signing with legal firms and torrent sneaking companies," CD Projekt co-founder Marcin Iwiński said.

"In quite a few big countries, when people are downloading it illegally they can expect a letter from a legal firm saying, 'Hey, you downloaded it illegally and right now you have to pay a fine.'

"We are totally fair, but if you decide you will not buy it legally there is a chance you'll get a letter.

"We are talking about it right now."

The music and film industries have been aggressive in their pursuit of illegal downloaders in recent years, but the videogame industry has so far acted with caution.

While CD Projekt hopes The Witcher 2 will sell 1.3 million copies within a year of its May 2011 release, it considers the game ripe for pirating - as a single-player only RPG it lacks an online component.

Normally, law firms specialising in cracking down on illegal downloaders approach torrent sites and ask for the names of Internet Service Providers used by people who download cracked games.

They then write to the ISPs threatening legal action if they refuse to spill the account details of users.

From that, real names are drilled down, and letters are sent out.

The process has come under scrutiny in recent months for a perceived lack of efficiency and questions around security.

Responsibility lies with the person paying the ISP bill, but the person who downloaded the game illegally could have been someone else. Thousands of people reckon they've been wrongly accused of illegally downloading and sharing copyright protected material via the internet, according to Which?.

Indeed UK consumers "cannot be held legally responsible for any illicit online file sharing activity which occurs without their knowledge, or consent, on their unsecured wireless networks". At least that's the opinion of Roger Wyand QC, a barrister specialising in intellectual property law and joint head of Hogarth Chambers.

But for Iwiński and CD Projekt it's a worthy pursuit. "There are more and more firms interested in it, because piracy is huge," he added.

"I'm sure you've heard about stories in the US when recording companies were chasing people. We don't want to be so harsh, but there is a chance that this might happen to some people if they download illegally. There will be an initiative."

According to Jas Purewal, a games lawyer at Olswang and writer of Gamer/Law, CD Projekt's effort with The Witcher 2 marks the beginning of a crackdown that's set to become more intense.

"Piracy is a serious legal and financial issue for the games industry, which is responding with a range of measures from DRM to legal action against illegal downloaders," he said.

"Historically, this kind of anti-piracy action has been more associated with the film or music industries, but in the future we may well see more of this from the games industry, particularly with the streamlined 'three strikes' process being introduced in the UK by the Digital Economy Act.

"That said, it is important that games companies use robust evidence gathering and legal processes to avoid encountering some of the bad PR which has resulted from litigation against innocent consumers elsewhere."

He added: "From a gamer's perspective, the whole point of these measures is that they should have a nil effect on legitimate games purchases but a strong negative effect on illegal downloads."

Interestingly, The Witcher 2 will be released digital rights management free – but only through the CD Projekt-owned digital download shop

That means owners will be able to install it as many times as they like on any number of computers – and it will not requite an internet connection to run.